TOY STORIES

Don't worry, there's a happy ending!

Don’t worry, there’s a happy ending!


Back in 2009, 25 Random Things About Me was the big thing on Facebook. I actually wrote a series of articles on how to use this idea to write a great artist statement.

I don’t remember what my 25 Random Things were. But today I add one more.

It’s about my toy stories. I make up stories about inanimate objects.

It began at a very early age, like maybe 3 or 4 years old. I had very few dolls as a kid but a lot of stuffed animals. And I always made up stories about their rich inner life. Like the night I thought they were cold and lonely, so I put sorted them into groups of ‘friends’ so they would would be warm. That left no room for me. So I slept on the floor.

Fortunately (or not), the next day I thought they might have chapped hands so I liberally covered them all with Jergen’s hand lotion. My mom threw them all out, and I got my bed back.

I still worry I had an alternative motive there. But I don’t think I did. I mourned the loss of all my little fur buddies, and I still miss them. Hence my large collection of old toys and very small dolls.

Which is why I felt sorry for this mama kangaroo at the thrift shop. I was shopping for small stuffed animals to decorate our Christmas tree. It’s our first Christmas without our kids, and we only have space for a very small tree.

She had a pouch but no baby kangaroo. How long had they been separated? Did she still miss him? I almost left her there, because I knew I would feel sad whenever I saw her. But then I realized I was putting my discomfort above her loss, so I bought her anyway. (I kid you not, these were my thoughts.)

And then at another thrift shop, I found a tiny bear who was glued into a little box. I didn’t make the connection at first. I just didn’t like the box he was glued into, and I thought he might be happier without it. So I tore the box off, and I put him in the microwave so I could soften and remove the glue.

Only I forgot to to remove the little metal hanging hook from his head so there were sparks and flames and the top of his head melted a little bit. And I had to clip the glue out of his fur so he looks a little ragged. I felt guilty that I’d made him worse. And now he smells a little….well, burnt.

Then I realized he would fit perfectly into the mama kangaroo’s pouch and they would be a comfort to each other.

So I guess I’m still telling stories about inanimate objects…. I don’t know what it means, and I don’t want to analyze it too much. It actually kind of works it’s way into my art, so I’m going to leave it alone.

Our first California Christmas tree, decorated with stuff I found at area thrift shops.

Our first California Christmas tree, decorated with stuff I found at area thrift shops.

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MANIFESTO 2015

“…And I can do this with my hands, by creating my little horse, which symbolizes the power that comes from our choices, our actions, even in the face of despair.”

This little horse actually means something really big.

This little horse actually means something really big.

My post on 9/11 reminds me that in the face of tragedy, we always have the power of our choices.

I’ve been silent here for awhile, as we’ve wrapped up our mammoth move to Northern California. And even when I’m writing regularly, I usually stick to subjects I consider “safe” for me: Writing about the business of art, writing about making art has affected my life, sharing the lessons I’ve found in wall-climbing, martial arts, hospice, parenthood and silly pets as I muddle through life.

None of that is changing. But there is something that’s been building, building lately. If you follow me on Facebook, you may have wondered why I’ve gone all “social justice-y” as my social worker daughter Robin so aptly puts it.

I’ve decided to speak out about white privilege and racism on my blog.

Rest assured that this will not dominate my writing. That is for more knowledgeable, articulate writers than I.

But let me explain how I got here.

Several years ago, our family became involved with an abusive person who is black. In his manipulation of our family, many topics revolving around race and class were used as tools to bully and intimidate. We became ‘hyper-allergic’ to anything that reminded us of that difficult period in our lives.

My daughter is the one who walked us back from that hard place. She made us realize that the way these issues were used was hurtful, but the truth of them was valid. Not only valid, but devastating in their consequences for people of color.

I began to examine many of the things I say and believe that I felt made me a ‘liberal’, a non-racist person. I was dismayed to realize I was oblivious to what more than a third of the people in the United States experience every single day of their lives. (Numbers vary, but roughly only 62% of the U.S. population consists of non-Hispanic white people.) The daily life of people of color in our country is very, very different than anything I have ever experienced. The death of Trayvon Martin opened my eyes even more.

More recently, we’ve gotten to know our new neighbors, a naturalized American of Mexican ancestry and her white husband. I had no idea of the extent of hostilities experienced by Hispanics in California. I was totally ignorant of the police shooting/death of Andy Lopez. Soon after, the events in Ferguson, MO took place, and the grand jury decision was made. Days later, the results of the Eric Garner grand jury were announced.

As I educated myself about these incidents, more and more examples of similar tragedies arose. I felt overwhelmed. But I realized I could no longer turn away.

Normally, I would slowly return to my ‘normal life’, feeling sad but sidelined and powerless to change anything. But as I learned even more, something shifted.

It happened after I read a powerful post from a black blogger. (Deep apologies, I can’t find the appropriate link, but will find it later. I need to get this written NOW!) She noted that her white followers, white people, even her own white friends, were being remarkably silent on these issues, even on Facebook where a cute cat video can go viral in seconds. She checked around, and found this was the case for other bloggers of color, too. “Where are the white people??” she asked.

Oh. Uh…. Yeah. That would be me.

Why WAS I being silent? What was holding me back?? Believing that these events don’t affect me? That I have nothing useful to say? Was I worried about appropriating a people-of-color cultural narrative?

I realized it doesn’t matter.

Andy Lopez could have been my kid, a young man who loves his Airsoft games with his friends. Except that my kid does it in the woods of New Hampshire, on private property, whereas poorer kids of color play in parks. And poorer kids of color get shot on sight, whereas my kid is white and would probably NOT be shot.

Andy Lopez could have been my kid. But saying, “There but for the grace of God…” doesn’t do it for me anymore. Because Andy Lopez deserves grace, too.

What about simply standing up and saying, “I stand with you”….?
What about simply saying, “I believe this is unjust and intolerable”….?
What about simply saying, “We have to find a way to change this”….?

I found I could no longer tolerate remaining silent.

And I began to post on Facebook about it.

The first post created quite a stir!

Things I’ve been told lately when discussing Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Andy Lopez, Tamir Rice…..
“He wasn’t a good kid, he’d just stolen cigarettes from a store!”
Me: “Do we shoot to kill when teens shoplift?”
“He lived in an awful neighborhood!”
Me: “He didn’t choose to live there. Probably his parents didn’t, either.”
“Why do those parents let their kids play with real-looking guns??”
Me: “Have you WALKED through a WalMart lately?? And heck, I had a preschooler chew his organic peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich into a gun and pretend to shoot it!”
“Why don’t those parents teach their kids not to wave a play gun at a police officer?”
Me: “I’m sure they did. But the operative word here is…’kids’….”
“Andy Lopez was a big kid. He looked like an adult!”
Me: “He didn’t choose that, either. And even an adult shouldn’t be shot on sight for carrying a AirSoft gun.”
“He wore a hoodie! That’s a gang sign!”
Me: I don’t even know what to say

In my passion to be more involved, I alienated some people, good people. I incurred endless arguments from well-meaning people who explained to me why these victims don’t deserve my compassion. I became more frustrated as I saw people endlessly defending their own points of view, while not even really considering mine.

I say one thing to these people: I’m sorry I didn’t respect your journey.

I don’t want to respect their point of view–I try, but I’m not that evolved!–but I have to. “Let go, let God”, says a wiser friend than I. I get it. Everybody has their own journey to make. I’m at a different place in mine, but it’s not for me to say where you should be in yours.

Neither will I become silent. My art, why I make it, and why it seems to matter so much to other people, are all wrapped up in my journey. I cannot separate my art from my activism. That’s why it seemed so right to take my simple earnings from my very first open studio here, and walk around the corner to donate it all to the Center for Peace and Justice in Sonoma County.

So my manifesto which begins today, as an early “New Year’s Resolution”. Or a “New Life Resolution”, if you will. I will hold onto the other core issues I treasure–humane rescue of animals, the spirituality of art, hospice, homelessness.

But there will be a few additions:

I will share my views openly (and peacefully!) when and where I can about social justice for people of color.

I will continue to examine my own deeply rooted beliefs and assumptions that keep me from being engaged.

I will support accountability for those in power.

I will support those who write and work for these issues, with my respect and my pocketbook.

I will not hide behind rationalizing, and defensiveness, and silence.

Because only our silence stands in the way of real justice.

And here’s my manifesto for 9/11:

BIRTHDAY

Today is my birthday. A Google alert tells me that today is the anniversary of the day the Lascaux cave was discovered by four teenaged boys who followed their lost dog down a hole.
In all these years I’ve made artwork inspired by the Lascaux cave, I never knew this.

It makes this piece (which I wrote on 9/11, my 49th birthday) even more poignant to me….

AN ANCIENT STORY FOR MODERN TIMES

The events of September 11, 2001 were almost too horrible to contemplate. The world seemed filled with evidence of hate, destruction and despair. As I watched events unfold, I was aware of my own reactions of anger and hate for the people who could stoop this low, and overwhelming sympathy for those whose lives were so carelessly taken in these acts of violence.

I went to my studio later, lost in despair and fearful of the new world that awaited us. As I worked, I couldn’t help thinking, “What does it matter that I make these little horses? What relevance do they have in the light of this tragic event?” I kept working as I thought.

The Cave Paintings of Lascaux…

Soon, however, it dawned on me. When the Lascaux cave paintings were created, the Ice Age was ending. The climate was changing, the great glaciers were retreating. The grasslands disappeared, and with them, the huge herds of animals that followed them. These ancient people watched as their entire way of life changed and disappeared. Some archaeologists now think the cave paintings were created to call the animals back.

Even as we stand, fearful and afraid at the dawn of a new age, so did they stand and watch as their world changed around them. They were afraid and perhaps filled with despair. But they went into the dark cave and created the most profoundly beautiful and evocative art the world has ever seen. Poignant in its message (though we cannot read it), we still feel its power 17,000 years later.

The Dawn of a New Morning…

We, too, stand at the dawn of a new morning. We, too, are afraid and despairing about what those changes will mean to us, as a nation and as individuals. We have choices to make about how we will meet those changes.

Life is not about what happens to us, but how we get through what happens to us. The kind of person we want to be determines the kind of choices we make.

We can choose how we face life.

The Choices We Make…

As an artist, I choose to affirm the creative force of the universe. In my own small way, I must stand on the side of creativity—to grow, to understand, to move forward in a constructive way, and to act in whatever way I can to honor this force. I can do this globally, by contributing to causes that seek to alleviate the conditions that bring acts of horror like this to the world. I can do this locally, by holding my family and loved ones close, and honoring the creative spirit of all other people. And I can do this with my hands, by creating my little horse, which symbolizes the power that comes from our choices, our actions, even in the face of despair.

Luann Udell

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SEWING TIP 4 YOU

Today I’m unpacking more boxes of studio stuff. I’ve set a goal for myself: Five boxes a day, more if I can fit them in.

At the first the haphazard packing was unsettling. (There are many ways to pack. But when you’re in a hurry or can’t do it all yourself and other people are doing it, and space is limited, you pack very differently!)
For example, one box might hold six earring holders, a small book, a rock and a beanbag. (I use them in my display, so it’s not THAT weird….) Today, one box held one pottery display stand. That broke. (And that’s okay, too, because I can glue it back together.)

But I’ve decided to now view each box as a puzzle ball, those charming presents I used to make for the kids when they were little. I’d take a tiny treasure and wrap it with strips of crepe paper, adding coins, confetti, flat-ish treats and toys, until the whole thing was about the size of a large softball. (They also took about 10 minutes to unwrap, which really prolonged the excitement and added to the joy.) (I think.)

My third box held my ink stamping pads and most of my spools of thread. If you ever visited my studio, you know my thread collection was extensive.

And here’s my thread tip:

Be aware that thread has a shelf life.

If you’re a seasoned sewer, you already know this. But when I first started sewing, I didn’t.

I would go to an antique store and buy old sewing baskets full of thread, giant spools of thread from manufacturing companies (sturdy thread from shoe-making companies, etc.), large spools of cotton threads, vintage spools of thread.

I would start a project, thread my sewing machine, and start to quilt.

And the thread would break.

I’d re-thread the machine. The thread would break again. And again, and again.

Then I realized the thread was too old, or sun-damaged, to use.

This can occasionally happen with new thread, too. I took my machine in to Russ Moline at The Moses House in Keene. He was baffled, too, until he finally tested my brand new giant spool of quilting thread. It was a faulty batch, and broke easily. A sad, but fortunately inexpensive “repair” of the sewing machine!

Cotton threads are especially prone to this. But sometimes silk thread can deteriorate, too.

So before you buy a wonderful stash of vintage thread, unwind a few inches and give it a yank. If it breaks easily, you will have nothing but heartache when you use it. (Even hand-sewing may be problematic, because it will wear even as you pull it through the fabric over and over….)

On the other hand, sometimes thread that LOOKS worn out or faded will still be strong enough to sew with. If you don’t like the fading, simply wind off enough thread till you get to the layer that was not exposed to heat and light.

And of course, just because that old thread isn’t functional anymore, doesn’t mean you have to throw it away. Fill a mason jar, a thread rack, or a pretty bowl with your thready treasures, and put them on display. As I go through my stash, the rejects are tossed into a new lamp I just bought, with a clear base that can be filled with….spools of thread!23mtn6t6 (2)

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26 JUMP STREET

My most recent article for The Crafts Report is 26 tips on how to make your craft show experience better. I was going to say, “more better”, but that would be redundant, wouldn’t it?

And don’t ask me what the title means, I didn’t pick it.

Enjoy!

26 Jump Street

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I CAN’T VOTE TODAY?!

I meant to post this yesterday, but needed to calm down first.
I’m frustrated beyond belief. You can skip to the end if you don’t want the details.
I found out 15 minutes before I left to vote, that I would not be allowed to vote. Not in California, due to voter registration restrictions (thought I’ve lived here almost six weeks), and certainly not in New Hampshire (because I haven’t lived there in two months.)
I am over 21, I am a U.S. citizen, I have a residence, I pay taxes, I am registered to vote. I educated myself about the local issues. I have a California driver’s licence, and a Sonoma County Library card.
But I was not allowed to participate in yesterday’s election.
Backstory: We moved to Santa Rosa at the end of September (from New Hampshire) in a whirlwind of a move that took less than a month on our end, and left us with no time to even look for a new home on this end.
By a miracle, we found a little place to rent our first day here. We moved in a week later, on September 22.
I immediately set about trying to get a driver’s license, register our car, and register to vote. I couldn’t believe I had to make an appointment a week in advance for the first two, but thought I had the third taken care of. (I filled out some voter registration form, I THOUGHT, while signing up for coupons and offers in a moving packet I found on-line.)
I showed up on October 9 at the DMV. (It’s overwhelming and confusing, but basically a good system. I’m impressed!) Halfway through the process, I realized we had misplaced our NH car title. I did get my driver’s license and applied online for a replacement title to be sent to me from NH.  It was not explained to me what would happen if I didn’t get that replacement on time.
It took over two weeks.
I went ahead and registered to vote online on Oct. 26. (For real, this time. I wonder what that other “voter registration” site was??)
As soon as I had the new title in hand, I made another appointment to get the title in place for Oct. 28–the day before I had knee surgery.
I got my title–but had to pay hundreds of dollars in penalty fees because the process had taken longer than the 10 days allowed. (10 days to register my car, when I didn’t even have a place to live until Sept. 22? ? Really??) That’s when I was told I could have STARTED the process on 10/9, and avoided the late fees.
After following the recommendations of the local paper, The Press Democrat, for the past month, I made a list of all the issues, candidates and propositions and looked online to find out where to vote. I looked up my district and where I was supposed to vote.
On a whim, I decided to look up my voter registration status online. Guess what?
I wasn’t on the list.
Oh, I’m technically ‘registered’. But I’d missed the cut-off date of Oct. 20. By six days.
I would not be allowed to vote.
I have voted in almost every every single election since I was eligible to vote–41 years now. I even volunteered at the polls the last few years. It’s exciting to be part of that process, and I loved it. We even had same-day voter registration–you could register at the polls and vote 10 minutes later. I remember a young woman who was voting for the first time six years ago. She was determined to vote for the president. I sent her to the registration desk. Twenty minutes later, she was back, and I handed her her very first ballot. The look on her face….  Uplifting.
Not the case in California in 2014.
At no point along in the registration process for voting did I see any indication I had to register before Oct. 20. (I’m sure it’s something “everybody knows.” But I didn’t.)
Of course, it’s way, way too late to vote as an absentee ballot in NH. Not that they would have allowed me to. After all, I’m technically registered to vote in California, and was a legal resident as soon as I had my CA driver’s license. And I was no longer a resident in New Hampshire the minute we sold our house and had no ‘home address’ there.
So I’m a stranded voter with no place to vote. And I’m appalled.
A 15-day cut-off before the election?? There’s a “dead period” where I don’t exist as a voter in NH nor CA.
That’s not right. I live here. I can prove it. I get mail here. I’ve already been here long enough to to pay late fees to register my damn car here–but not to vote?? (Yes, my fault on the penalty fees, but come on….a 10 day deadline?? It took me almost that long to even get the appointment.)
I understand the California law has been changed (although I’m bemused New Hampshire, of all states, has proven to be more progressive than California….) I’ve been assured I can vote in the next election. Wow….thank you, California. I’m so grateful.
But this was still an important election. Heck, every election is important.
And I’m mad as hell I didn’t get to participate.

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Here I am! Santa Rosa California!

WOW!! I’m back!!! And I’m starting off with, not what I’ve been up to the last few months but with a funny story.

Okay, I’ll back up a little bit. We spent a wild month selling our possessions, packing the enormous amount we still had left, loading four moving cubes (like pods, but nicer people and cheaper), then driving cross-country with two dogs, visiting friends and family along the way. Ended up finding the perfect house for us to rent our second day in Santa Rosa, and moving in a week later. The rest is a blur of unpacking, hooking up essential services, finding our way around a new city four times as big as Keene, and trying to learn the garbage/recycling drill in California.

Okay, now back to the story. One of the perks of our neighborhood is a new farmer’s market two blocks away. The variety and quality of the food is amazing. And of course, the business side of my brain quickly noticed that the range of selling expertise ranges from the sublime to the ridiculous…..

We were almost done shopping there yesterday when I noticed a new vendor sitting glumly behind his table under his pop-up tent. There was a tray of assorted “dips” arranged on his table, and two poster board signs handwritten with a pen. One said, “1 for $5, 2 for $9.” The other was filled with about a dozen bubbles of text, like “finest ingredients!” “like no other!” and my favorite, “arrogant food!!”

Curious, I approached him, and he leaped to his feet. “What are these?” I asked.

Now, when I relate this, I do NOT mean to suggest that his broken English means he’s ignorant. After all, he speaks at least two languages, and I speak only one. I mean to comment only that what he felt was important about his product is not exactly what I think was important. And his products are so amazing, I’m sure he’ll get much, much better at selling soon.

With that in mind….
He responded to my question with an array of statements that were repeated every time I asked a question. So the conversation went something like this:

Me: What are these?
Him: The finest ingredients. Made by Turkish kitchen. Never the same twice.
Me: Is this one hummus?
Him: You don’t understand. These are secret recipe. Only made in Turkey. You try.
Me (sampling): Wow! This is great! Is this one hummus, too? (because it was hummus.)
Him: This different. Made for the wealthy people. Always the best food. Only the best ingredients. Never the same twice. Made by Turkish kitchen.
Me: What is this one?
Him: (more of the same.)
Me: This is WONDERFUL! It kinda tastes like…babaganoush?
Him: (more of the same.)

Fortunately, I don’t have any food allergies, so not knowing what I was eating wasn’t too much of a problem. Mostly I wanted to know so I could ASK FOR IT AGAIN next week when he comes back.

We bought three containers, and he seemed happier. On my out, I said, “By the way, what do you mean by ‘arrogant food’?”

Him: Only for the wealthiest people. The best food.
Me: But…arrogant?
Him: The finest ingredients. Never the same twice. From Turkish kitchen. (I still don’t know if this means ‘his Turkish recipes’ or if “Turkish Kitchen” is the name of his business…?)
Me: Do you mean ‘elegant food’?”
Him: ???
Me: ‘Arrogant is mean’, like this. (I make a snooty mean face. ‘Elegant’ means very fancy, very nice. (I make a smiling face, with elegant hand gestures.) (I hope they look elegant.)
Him: Thank you! Yes, elegant!!

Fortunately, the dips were delicious. Setting aside the assumptions that only rich-people food is desirable and that not knowing what you’re eating is a great sales pitch, I kind of like the idea of eating “arrogant food”.

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LESSONS FROM THE MOVE: The Story of the Hutch

A very useful piece of furniture, this hutch has been with us for 26 years!

A very useful piece of furniture, this hutch has been with us for 26 years!

It’s been less than a week since Cap’n Ben’s words of wisdom on moving. And it’s been a busy one. There’s been a flurry of paperwork. Many listings of our belongings on Craigslist. A yard sale or two, with more in the works.

I’m a collector and a mixed media artist. That means almost every object that crosses my path has “potential”. Possibilities abound. I have drawers of decorative papers and specialty glues, paint in every form you can imagine, beads, fabric, yarn and books. Frames and canvases, paper cutters and miter saws, waxed linen and silk tape.

And I have a thousand containers for all of them. Including….

The hutch.

It’s a beautiful wood hutch, three glass doors up, two drawers in the middle and three wood doors below. Pine stained to cherry. Nicely made, not those clunky ones that always end up in the thrift shops.

We bought it the first year we moved to Keene, 26 years ago. Our daughter Robin was five weeks old when we moved in. In the middle of a heat wave, and us with one window fan. My husband went to work in an air-conditioned office every day, complaining how cold it was. I would lie on the floor in front of the fan, begging the weather gods to please, please, please remove the maddening 95 plus degree heat.

After six months of staring at my craft supplies sitting in boxes, my husband proposed we set up some sort of organizer for them. We ended up down at Winchendon Furniture, in the clearance section of the second floor. We found the hutch and fell in love with it. It adorned our dining room for twelve years, and another fourteen when we moved to Roxbury Street.

Eventually I had a room and then an entire studio for my projects. The art supplies in the hutch made way for our pretty wedding china

Nope, it's not going to California, either. Earthquakes. Remember?

Nope, it’s not going to California, either. Earthquakes. Remember?

, and eventually my McCoy pottery collection.

Now it’s 26 years later. Where did the time go?? The kids are grown and nearly on their own. The house is sold, and here we are, emptying our home of a lifetime of memories, getting on our way to California.

It was strange to see the hutch empty. And though we priced it to sell, it survived three indoor tag sales this spring, and even a yard sale. “Maybe it will go with us to California!” I said hopefully. My husband was pretty sure it wouldn’t.

He was right. Eventually someone saw it on Craigslist, and an email conversation ensued. The woman said her husband loved the hutch, and he would pick it up that day. When he arrived, though he paid us less than we expected. “But we agreed to the price!” I cried. “Let it go”, said Jon. And so I did. But I couldn’t watch it go, and hid in my studio.

Now it wasn’t just an empty hutch I had to look at today–there was a huge empty spot in our living room. And there was the funny gap in the molding surrounding the room we’d completely forgotten about.

Mind the gap!

Mind the gap!

We hope it won’t kill the sale.

Today we received one more email from the hutch’s new family. The dad was chagrined to get home and realize he’d underpaid us. The mom promised to send us a check for the difference. I told her how grateful I was for that little extra to help us on our way.

But the best part of her email was the picture she included….

Their two very young children, already exploring inside the hutch.

Our hutch with its new family.

Our hutch with its new family.


My heart leaped into my throat for a moment–how like my own young ones at that age! And I knew the hutch was truly in its rightful home.

We came to Keene with not too much, and made a life here. I became a mother here, and an artist. We made friends, we made a home, we became a family.

Now that time is finished, and something new begins. Jon will lose his job any day now. The layoffs at his company are massive, and he’s already been told it will be soon. We don’t have a home yet in California. We simply remember the quality of light when we were last there, and how light in heart we felt.

I do not know what lies ahead for us in California. Our friend Julie says when she looks at us, she sees light. I believe her. We are becoming lighter, letting go of what we don’t need to hold onto anymore. We don’t need sweaters in California, nor snow shovels and ice skates. I don’t need my beloved salt-and-pepper collection in a city of earthquakes.

I didn't have THAT many salt-and-pepper shakers....

I didn’t have THAT many salt-and-pepper shakers….

Some days it’s hard to let go of so much. And some days it’s easier.

But through it all, I know this:

The memories are in our hearts. We need very few mementos to keep them bright.

And new memories are waiting to be made, in California.

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